Shortly after Israeli Defense Forces announced that its air and ground troops “are currently attacking” the Gaza Strip, progressive U.S. lawmakers took to the House floor Thursday evening to discuss the ongoing violence and decades of Israel’s government, military, and settler colonists violating the human rights of Palestinians.
“The president and many other figures this week stated that Israel has a right to self-defense, and this is a sentiment that is echoed across this body. But do Palestinians have a right to survive? Do we believe that?”
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
The special order hour was organized by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Marie Newman (D-Ill.)—who, along with 23 other House members, sent a letter Wednesday calling on the Biden administration to pressure the Israeli government to “desist from its plans to demolish Palestinian homes in Al-Bustan and evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah,” two neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem.
“We must acknowledge and condemn the disproportionate discrimination and treatment that Palestinians face versus others in this region,” Pocan declared, challenging those who frame the violence, of this week and the past several decades of Israeli occupation, as “a ‘both sides’ issue.”
After laying out some of what the hour would entail, Pocan introduced Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, whose elderly grandmother lives in the village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa outside of Jerusalem.
“Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much money you send to Israel’s apartheid government,” Tlaib told her colleagues. “If we are to make good on our promises to support equal human rights for all, it is our duty to end the apartheid system that for decades has subjected Palestinians to inhumane treatment and racism, reducing Palestinians to live in utter fear and terror of losing a child, being indefinitely detained or killed because of who they are, and the unequal rights and protections they have under Israeli law. It must end.”
The speakers discussed U.S. military aid to Israel, reports that the Biden administration blocked a United Nations Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire earlier this week, and regional history going back to what Palestinians call the Nakba—which means catastrophe in Arabic and refers to the forced mass displacement of Palestinians and creation of Israel in 1948.
Tlaib also criticized recent remarks from U.S. President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Llyod Austin, and fellow lawmakers.
“To read the statements from President Biden and Secretary Blinken, General Austin and leaders of both parties, you’d hardly know Palestinians exist at all,” she said. “There has been absolutely no recognition of Palestinian humanity. If our own State Department can’t even bring itself to acknowledge the killing of Palestinian children as wrong, well, I will say it for the millions of Americans who stand with me against the killing of innocent children no matter their ethnicity or faith.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) similarly took issue with Biden’s comments this week. His administration has repeatedly emphasized that “Israel has a right to defend itself” while declining to condemn Israeli attacks that have now killed scores of Palestinians in Gaza since Monday, including over two dozen children.
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